Since the Czech Republic entered the EU ten years ago, it has received a large amount of aid from Brussels. This aid has targeted certain regions such as North Bohemia and North Moravia in various projects which seek to reverse the economic sluggishness these parts of the country have shown. Now, with Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia about to join the EU, those funds are about to dry up in the Czech Republic. The money will be used further East, where economic need is greater. This is unsettling several voices in the Czech Republic.
That is what you are likely to read in the Czech papers in 2015. How can I be so sure? Well, because this is precisely what is happening in the EU today. Take Britain for example.
Britain is currently ranked fourth from the bottom in the EU poverty rankings. That is, according to income per head, the UK is 12th out of the fifteen countries - in front of only Greece, Spain and Portugal. Britain receives significant support from Brussels in the form of regional aid directed at areas of the country which are suffering most from severe economic difficulties.
Areas in the UK such as the Scottish Highlands and Islands region, Northern Ireland and Yorkshire, to name just a few examples, are all current recipients of EU regional aid due to their struggling local economies. In total, the UK has received #1.5 billion of regional aid every year since 1994.
But now, much of this is threatened. Up to 70% of Britain's eligible regions could be struck from the receiving list and about a third of the current funds are now set for the chopping block if the EU adopts "Agenda 2000". Due out on Wednesday, this wide-ranging EU proposal seeks large cuts in current regional aid to cope with the EU's Eastward expansion while maintaining the current budget (1.27% of a member state's GNP).
As the reader could probably guess, the people of Britain are not going to be very happy about these changes that see their money flow Eastward. Even before the official release of the details of "Agenda 2000", the British papers are already discussing the huge effects this massive shift in EU spending will have in economically depressed regions like the ones mentioned above. General dissatisfaction and resentment with Brussels looks set to rise here in a country that is only lukewarm on Europe at the best of times. These sentiments will certainly reveal themselves in local and national politics, as well. Indeed, there is already some loose talk about a British veto on Eastern enlargement altogether.
Fast forward again to 2015, and it is not too hard to guess that the Czech Republic will likely respond to the second wave of Eastward enlargement in the same way as Britain is responding to the first wave today. The Czech Republic will worry that its regional funds will shift Eastward to Bulgaria and Romania (even to Slovakia again - imagine!). There will be some Czech resentment at the EU, and there will be accusations that Brussels is abandoning its current members in favour of gaining new ones. Public dissatisfaction with the EU will rise in the Czech Republic. The politicians and the press will be in an uproar. In fact, the whole debate will very likely resemble the one in the UK today in many details.
In 2015, it is unlikely that anyone in the Czech Republic will remember that their country was once on the outside, too. But hopefully in 2015, some citizens of the Czech Republic will point out the value of stability to the East and, as some will be trying to do this week in the UK, prove that such stability is worth paying for.